Action by the NJ Legislature This Week December 14th – December 18th, 2020
Both Houses of the Legislature met for Voting Sessions this week. Pursuant to P.L. 2020, c.2, the voting sessions were held electronically. Both houses voted unanimously, and for the second time, to postpone QSAC reviews for this year while the Senate voted favorable to amend the NJ Anti-Bullying Bill of Rights Act, require the Department of Education to compile a “learning loss” report, and require instruction on diversity and inclusion.
A Bill Amending NJ’s Anti-Bullying Bill of Rights Act
After nearly 18 months of discussions and amendments, NJPSA was able to support S-1790 which proposes to make significant changes to the Anti-Bullying Bill of Rights if enacted. The measure modifies criminal statutes to increase fines for parents or guardians for failure to comply with a court-ordered class or training on cyberbullying. Currently, parents or guardians of a minor under the age of 16 who has been adjudicated delinquent of cyber-harassment face fines from $25 to $100 for failure to attend classes with their child, and the bill would raise the penalties to $100 to $500. Parents could also be liable under a civil suit.
With respect to school bullying investigations, the bill seeks to strengthen school accountability through a structured system of reporting, recording, tracking and investigating HIB in schools. The bill clarifies the investigatory structure, the consequences for HIB and creates the position of School Climate State Coordinator within the NJDOE to serve as a resource for students, parents and educators .
Finally, the bill proposes to fund the Bullying Prevention Fund and this newly created NJDOE position.
The bill was passed unanimously by the full Senate on Thursday, but still must be considered by the General Assembly and Governor Murphy would also need to sign this bill in order for it to become law.
A Bill Requiring a Learning Loss Report
S-3214 requires the Commissioner of Education to prepare two reports on the impact of the COVID-19 public health emergency on public schooling. The first report will be a learning loss report that identifies and quantifies the impact of the COVID-19 public health emergency on student academic outcomes. The second report will be a report on the continuation of school services during the same period.
Under the bill, the commissioner must collect data on student academic outcomes from all school districts within 30 days of the bill’s effective date. The learning loss report must identify and quantify the impact of the COVID-19 public health emergency on overall student academic outcomes, and include an analysis disaggregated by district size, grade level, and academic subject, where practicable; and identify and quantify the impact of the COVID-19 public health emergency on student achievement disparities that existed prior to the public health emergency, and include an analysis of student academic outcomes disaggregated by race, ethnicity, gender, eligibility for free or reduced price lunch under the National School Lunch Program, eligibility for special education services, and English language learner designation.
The bill also directs the commissioner to require each school district to submit data and information related to the continuation of school services during the COVID-19 public health emergency. The school district must submit the data and information to the commissioner within 90 days of the bill’s effective date. The data and information must be provided for the time period beginning on the date of the school district’s closure in March of 2020 and ending on the bill’s effective date. Under the bill, the required data will include, but need not be limited to the dates of any extended and intermittent pauses of academic instruction taken as a result of the COVID-19 public health emergency; a description of the instructional format provided by the school district; for any remote learning provided, data on the amount of class time students spent in synchronous and asynchronous learning formats; data on class sizes for each instructional format used by the district and the amount of any small group or one-on-one instruction delivered; data and information on student and teacher access to reliable Internet and technology; high school graduation rates; information on any standardized assessment administered to students in the fall of 2020; the attendance rates and attendance policy applied by the school district; information on the continuity of special education services; a description of the professional development opportunities provided to school district teachers and staff; the number of students who received free or reduced-price meals; information on any district-sponsored child care programs; information on current and projected teacher shortages; and types of social-emotional supports provided to students, teachers, and staff and participation rates of these programs.
Under the bill school districts would have to provide data that is disaggregated by race, ethnicity, gender, eligibility for free or reduced price lunch under the National School Lunch Program, eligibility for special education services, English language learner designation, and grade level.
NJPSA testified in opposition to this bill. While we agree that gathering data is an important measure that will help us as we move forward, the tight timelines in the bill would put undue stress on already strained school districts and staff. NJEA, Garden State Coalition of Schools, New Jersey School Boards Association, and NJASA all concurred with our testimony.
The bill was passed by the full Senate on Thursday by a vote of 38-1, but still must be considered by the General Assembly and Governor Murphy would also need to sign this bill in order for it to become law.
A Bill Requiring Instruction on Diversity and Inclusion
Prior to this bill getting to the voting floor, NJPSA successfully advocated for an amendment to S2781/A-4454, legislation which requires districts to incorporate instruction on diversity and inclusion into the curriculum in grades 9-12 as part of the implementation of the NJ Learning Standards. Initially, the bill required this topic to be taught in Health and Physical education. The recent updating of the NJ Learning Standards has already incorporated such instruction into our standards. The bill requires the Commissioner of Education to provide sample learning activities and resources to districts. The bill narrowly passed the Senate with 26 votes in favor of the bill and 13 opposed (one abstention). The bill was previously passed in the Assembly by similar narrow margins: 52-10-10. S2781/A-4454 now goes to the Governor for his consideration and could be signed into law.
A Bill Modifying the NJQSAC Review Schedule
S-3187 would postpone until the 2023-2024 school year the comprehensive review of districts that are: 1) required to undergo a comprehensive review in the 2020-2021 school year; and 2) were designated as a high performing district in the school district’s most recent comprehensive review. However, the Commissioner of Education is required to permit a high performing school district that is subject to postponement under the bill to undergo a comprehensive review in the 2020-2021 school year, upon request by the school district. A high performing school district that elects to undergo its scheduled comprehensive review in the 2020-2021 school year would undergo its next comprehensive review three years after the 2020-2021 school year.
This bill requires a school district that is scheduled to undergo a comprehensive review in the 2020-2021 school year and which was not designated as a high performing district in the school district’s most recent comprehensive review may postpone its comprehensive review until the 2021-2022 school year if the district provides written notification to the Commissioner of Education that it is not able to complete the review due to the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. A school district that postpones its comprehensive review pursuant to this exception will be required to undergo its next review as if the postponement had not occurred (i.e., three years after the school year in which the review was originally scheduled to take place). NJPSA strongly supported this bill as recognizing that staff time is a scarce resource at this time and requiring districts to invest so much time and valuable resources into a compliance measure is a misallocation of staffing at a time when educators need to be focusing all of their energies on safety, through COVID-19 response measures, and student engagement in learning. This bill unanimously passed the Senate on December 17th by a vote of 40-0. The General Assembly passed A-4975 unanimously by a vote of 79-0 the same day. This bill has now passed both houses, has been sent to the Governor for his consideration, and may become law.
The NJ Legislature has one final voting session scheduled for this year. On Monday, December 21st, both houses are convening to consider one lone bill addressing tax credit programs in the state.
Thank you for your advocacy and input on all of these bills as they have moved through the legislative process. Your NJPSA GR team will continue to keep you informed about the bills that are now pending on the Governor’s desk. As this year draws to a close, we wish you a safe holiday season and a happy New Year. Please know that we are always here if you have any questions or concerns about a bill. Deb Bradley firstname.lastname@example.org and Jennie Lamon. email@example.com.